Lanier Spots: Bait Slammin’ Topwater Action

Jim Russell says May kicks off the season for big spots on top.

Don Baldwin | May 1, 2008

Lake Sidney Lanier, north of Atlanta, is usually one of the busiest lakes in the state. The shoreline is densely populated, and there are pleasure boats and water craft churning the surface from mid-morning through most of the day during the summer months. At times the chop created by all the activity can make it almost impossible to fish.

But there is a summer pattern that some anglers just don’t know about that can be very productive on Lanier. This deep, clear reservoir can provide some of the best topwater spotted-bass action you will find anywhere. That’s right, amid all that ruckus you can call up chunky spots from the depths and watch them smash into noisy surface lures.

We had the good fortune to fish Lanier with Jim Russell of Statham in early April. While the spots weren’t on the topwater pattern yet, Jim shared with us the locations and techniques he employs during the summer months to boat hefty spots.

Jim is a serious bass angler who has made his way through the ranks from pleasure fisherman, to bass clubber, to pot tournaments, and now he fishes BFL and Stren Series as a boater and the FLW Tour as a co-angler. His most recent accomplishment is an Oconee BFL win last March.

Next season Jim is qualified to fish the FLW Tour as a professional.

He has been fishing Lanier for more than 25 years, and he calls it his home lake. He knows his way around the place.

Jim tells us that by the first part of May most of the bass will have finished spawning and will be suspended over main-lake humps and primary points in about 20 to 30 feet of water.

“Spots will school up on these points around structure like rocks, brushpiles or standing timber,” said Jim. “These fish are stressed from the spawn and will be ready to feed aggressively.”

Jim’s baits of choice for this action include the old standby Red Fin, by Cotton Cordell, a new bait by Spro called the BBZ-1 Swimbait and a special two-bait rig that Jim tells us not only attracts strikes but sometimes even provides two bass on the same cast.

Jim’s postspawn arsenal includes (from top) a BBZ-1 Swimbait by Spro, Jim’s modified Cordell Red Fin, a shaky head for probing brush on tough days and a Lucky Craft Staysee. All can create explosive strikes and plenty of action.

Starting with the Red Fin, Jim doesn’t fish it as it comes out of the box. From thorough experimentation he has discovered a few modifications he believes make the bait perform better.

“The main thing is to keep the nose from digging in so you can get a good “V” wake on the retrieve,” said Jim.

He removes the split ring from the front of the lure and ties the line directly to the bait with a loop knot. He also changes out both hooks. He uses a No. 2 treble at the middle of the bait and a feather-dressed No. 2 treble on the rear. The addition of the feather not only provides a little extra attraction but also adds drag at the rear to help lift the nose of the bait. Jim fishes the Red Fin on 17- to 20-lb. P- Line on a casting reel mounted on a 7-foot rod. He makes long casts over the hump or point and then uses a steady retrieve with the rod tip at about a 45-degree angle up from the surface.

“That rod angle is perfect to produce the classic V wake,” said Jim.

The BBZ-1 is fished in a similar fashion, but this is one big bait. This swimbait is 8 inches long, weighs 5 ounces and has multiple joints in its body. Because of its size, there are some pretty specific equipment requirements in order to fish it effectively. Jim throws the big bait on a stiff, 8-foot rod with a medium- to heavy-casting reel (minimum Garcia size is a 6500, according to Jim). The reel is spooled with 25-lb. test Berkeley Big Game Line.

“The bait is so big that you need to swing it like casting a live bait,” said Jim. “It takes a little practice, but once you get the feel of it you can cast the big bait a long way and pretty accurately.”

The bait comes in three models: a floater, slow sink and fast sink. Jim likes the floater in the silver-fish color because it emulates the natural bait in Lanier, shad and blueback herring. Once the cast has been made, Jim recommends a steady retrieve with the rod at a 45-degree angle just like the Red Fin.

“It is pretty amazing to watch fat spots come up and inhale one of these 8-inch baits,” said Jim.

Probably his most favorite method to catch spots on top is with his two- bait rig. The rig consists of a big pop- per like a Chug Bug (a big Zara Spook will also do) tied on the end of the line with a Doyle Hodgins Front Runner tied about 15 inches up the line, ahead of the popper. When this rig is worked across the surface by popping the big terminal plug, the front runner darts around in front of the popper and looks like a fleeing bait fish.

Jim’s two-bait rig is one of his favorites for bagging spots on top. The rig consists of a big popper like a Chug Bug (a big Zara Spook will also do) tied on the end of the line with a Doyle Hodgins Front Runner tied about 15 inches up the line, ahead of the popper.

“The popper provides the commotion to draw up the fish, and the little Front Runner provides a little extra excitement,” said Jim. “When the fish are feeding aggressively it isn’t unusual to catch two bass on a single cast, one on each bait.”

Jim said the key to finding these bass is to pick several locations and run a circuit throughout the day.

“When you find a school they’ll usually all come up at once and hit aggressively for just a couple of casts,” said Jim. “Once you have caught a few fish, the school will disperse and take at least 30 minutes to settle down and regroup.”

Jim advises to move on to your next spot and come back later. The fish will generally still be in the area.

There are literally dozens of locations that will fit the bill and hold fish. Look for humps and points that top out at 20 to 30 feet and have deep water nearby. Structure is important because bass use the structure as ambush points. One of the most important factors is the presence of bait in the area. When you approach one of your selected spots, keep your eyes on the graph. If you see a big ball of bait on the screen, work the area thoroughly. There are likely bass around feeding on the bait.

Jim fishes the lower end of the lake almost exclusively, but he said there is plenty of action above Browns Bridge as well. It’s also a good idea to work the marinas, according to Jim. The floating docks and breakwaters are all held in place by networks of cables. These cables serve as fish attractors and can be really productive. In Lanier, at normal water levels, you can gener- ally find plenty of cover on points at the proper depths. Planted brushpiles abound on this deep, clear lake. Last summer, and most likely this one as well, with the lake so low, much of the planted brush is either exposed or in water that is too shallow to hold fish to support this pattern. Jim has turned to more natural structure under the cur- rent conditions. He recommends you get an old map, and look for standing timber, old foundations and other structures. Much of the structure that has been too deep to fish effectively over the last few years could now be prime territory with the extremely low water.

Jim caught this Lake Lanier spot while fishing with the author last month. Spots will be schooling on the humps and points in May and June.

If you don’t feel comfortable dealing with the large lures Jim describes as his favorites, he said there is an option that is easier to deal with and works well for the beginner to this type of fishing.

“One of the easiest baits to fish on this pattern is a Zoom Super Fluke,” said Jim. “I fish the bait on a 7- foot spinning rod and a 4/0 wide-gap hook with a barrel swivel about 15 inches up the line from the hook.”

This bait will dart around on or just below the surface when retrieved with a jerking motion and can be very effective on schooling spots. Try light colors like pearl, blue glimmer or albino for best results.

Jim said this pattern will work on Lanier throughout the summer, and the heavy boat traffic on the lake doesn’t seem to affect the fish, or their desire to feed, very much if at all. He says he has been in water so rough, due to boat wakes, he could barely stand on the casting platform, but big spots were just smashing lures on top.

So take out your maps, look for structure on main-lake humps and points, pick a dozen or so spots that look likely to meet the criterion and head out to Lanier this month. If you try Jim’s topwater baits and tactics, you are in for some explosive action as well as some impressive stringers of some the chunkiest spotted bass you are likely to see anywhere. The technique isn’t tough to master, and there are plenty of bass there for the catching.

This tournament season Jim has made a commitment we feel is pretty impressive. Jim has aligned himself with an organization called Camp Sunshine. This organization is dedicated to helping children who have had, or currently have, cancer. They run a house in the Atlanta area as well as a retreat near Rutledge. These facilities are specifically equipped to meet the needs of these special children.

This year Jim is donating all the winnings he receives on the FLW Tour to Camp Sunshine. He feels strongly about the work that is done by this group and is dedicated to supporting them in helping as many children as he can. Jim has worked with many of his sponsors, and they have agreed to chip in their support as well. We appreciate Jim’s offer and wanted to recognize him in this article. If you would like to know more about the work of Camp Sunshine, visit their website at

Maybe you, like Jim, would like to give your support.

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